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Bypass rising utility costs by using natural energy to power your home

Friday, September 7th, 2012
Active House USA

Here a solar thermal PV panel which works with the water heating system in the home is being craned to the roof and set at Active House USA.

One of the newest concepts to revolutionize energy efficient home building is not all that new when you think about it. The biggest buzz among home builders and architects is solar orientation and the variety of residential solar products in the market that are designed to use the sun’s natural energy to cut or eliminate energy bills, or even create a surplus of free power. We are incorporating solar orientation and natural energy usage into our Olivette, MO renovation and the Active House USA prototype home we are building in Webster Groves, MO, and we are working closely with our new clients to educate them on the availability and usage of natural energy when designing their new home.

Because many times it is synonymous with green building, the first thing people often as us about when talking about energy efficient or high performance homes is solar power. Capturing the sun’s light via cells that then convert it into power has been around for long enough that many people understand at a most basic level how it works. But, unfortunately, many St Louis homeowners stop investigating natural energy practically before they begin, imagining that living in an old neighborhood with lots of trees of the snowy and dark winters our mixed climate brings means they would just have to do without power when there is cloud cover, or that it is not practical here in the Midwest like it would be in a coastal region with lots of sunshine daily. Both of those assumptions are wrong-many homes in St Louis can and do use solar power and other methods of capturing and using natural energy, and many new homes are being built with well synchronized systems in place so that they are operating close to, or even completely without, the use of any external energy utilities.

There are many factors aside from just installing solar panels that go into the design of the home it’s self and the systems inside that allow homeowners to build or renovate their home to take advantage of natural energy. From understanding the relative position of the sun to the home to gauge day lighting and solar exposure for the lot and different areas of the home, to capturing that light and energy through solar cells, sun tunnels, and window placement, to carefully planning redundancy systems that use natural resources (such as geothermal or natural gas) to power the home in the sun’s absence, energy efficient homes are the product of a complex science that requires a well versed home building team to execute but is completely within reach for St Louis homeowners.

One of the most appealing aspects of the advances in energy efficient building, and one that our clients are always happy to learn, is that you can do all of this without ending up with a house that looks a beehive or aquarium. With so many of favorite neighborhoods in St Louis also being those that are dotted with century old homes, this is welcome news to many. And, in fact, our clients have built beautiful homes that blend seamlessly with the charm and character of the neighborhood around them (even Old Webster!), but with performance and durability that far outpaces the surrounding homes that were built to codes that became outdated long ago – a beauty that is more than just skin (or shingles) deep.

Olivette Open House Draws Crowd to Learn About Energy Efficient Renovation

Monday, July 30th, 2012

On July 28, 2012 we held a public open house for our high performance home renovation in Olivette, Missouri. The 50+ year old ranch is being converted into a two story, into a highly efficient, verified green (National Green Building Standards, Energy Star, Challenge Home) home for a wonderful young couple.

The turnout was terrific – there was a constant stream of visitors wanting to learn more about this special home and why it is different. Everyone got a sneak peek before drywall went up so we were able to show people how we thoroughly caulk and seal all exterior gaps and penetrations before insulation to improve efficiency and air quality. The insulation package on this home is actually a combination Icynene foam and fiberglass batts – a hybrid system that provides an air sealant, vapor barrier, and improved R-value.

Several of our trade and vendor partners who worked on this home also participated in the event. Scott Lee Heating and Enertech reps got a chance to show-off their GeoComfort geothermal heating and cooling system. Reps from Velux and Premiere Skylights discussed the important role of skylights in high performance homes. There was even a rep from Midwest BankCentre on hand to help people understand more about the special lending available for energy efficient construction and home purchases.

We really wanted to make this an educational opportunity for those who visited, so my partner Matt Belcher of Verdatek Solutions, posted signs around the house to explain more about our green construction practices and materials being used. Matt and I like nothing more than educating people on the importance of how we build, and how the homes we build reduce energy costs while promoting a healthy, comfortable living environment.

We have another very special project under way right now – we are building the first Active House in the USA in Webster Groves, Missouri. We are in the foundation phase now, but once the walls are up we will hold an open house so people can take a peek at this very special project that is pulling in the leading green building practices worldwide and innovating them for use in North America. If you’d like an invitation to that event all you have to do is signup for our newsletter and you’ll get one right in your email. You can also “like” our page on Facebook where we will be posting information about the event as well.

In the meantime, here are some photos from the July 28 open house. You can see some of the facts and some of the faces that were featured on the tour, but if you have any questions about the project or green home renovation in general feel free to call us at 314.581.8205 or leave your question in the comments below! We are very excited about the home and invite the opportunity to share more with anyone who is interested.

Three Ways to Take The Pressure Off Your AC During Extreme Heat

Friday, June 29th, 2012
Energy Efficient Renovations in St Louis

This image from the forecast on ksdk.com shows just how sweltering the week ahead is for St Louisans.

When temperatures soar into the triple-digits like they have been lately, the combination of the heat and humidity keeps many St Louisans inside.  Extreme heat can be difficult on people, and hard on an HVAC system – especially if the system is past it’s prime and not running at peak efficiency.  If that is the case, over the long-term may be time to look into an energy efficient renovation, but in the mean time there are a few things you can do to take the pressure off your system during extreme heat.

Close the blinds or curtains – Blinds with thicker slats, plantation shutters, and heavy curtains block the sun’s rays from coming in and heating your home by way of the greenhouse effect if you don’t have Low-E windows that are specially designed to help block some of the sun’s heat causing rays.  Closing the blinds on your Eastern facing windows before 2pm, and Western facing after 2pm works much the same way by blocking the sun, and keeping the room cooler in turn.

Limit Electronics and Light Use – Have you ever spent an hour on your cellphone and noticed that you were sweating even if you haven’t moved?  The energy used for electronics, lighting, and appliances produces heat, in turn raising the temperature of the room – and the larger the appliance the more heat used.  While you probably don’t want to unplug your fridge, running the dishwasher could wait until early the next morning.  Same goes for the dryer, and overhead lighting.

Relocate for a Bit – If you have renovated your basement into a family room or office, then it might be a little chilly during the winter but it is probably the ideal place to spend the day during a hot St Louis summer day.  That is because a basement room is more than likely a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house, and especially the top floor.  Spend the day downstairs and kick the AC up a few notches – you will stay cooler and more comfortable while giving your AC a bit of a breather.

With triple-digit temperatures, staying cool is the top priority on the minds of many folks around the greater St Louis area.  With these tips you can do just that, and still give your HVAC system a little bit of a break this summer. And if you are ready for a more comfortable home next summer (winter, spring, and fall for that matter), talk to a qualified St. Louis contractor.  Building a new, energy efficient home or planning for an energy efficient home renovation will save on your heating and cooling costs while increasing your families comfort, and your home’s durability.